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[graphic] Cuyler Presbyterian Church

Cuyler Presbyterian Church
Photo by Kathy Howe, courtesy of New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

The former Cuyler Presbyterian Church is located in the Boerum Hill neighborhood of northwestern Brooklyn, Kings County, New York. Designed by Staten Island architect Edward A. Sargent, the building is an example of High Victorian Eclectic design with elements of both Gothic and Romanesque styles of architecture. The Cuyler Presbyterian Church began as an extension of Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church to support its growing programs. The chapel was built one-half mile away from the Lafayette Church in the North Gowanus neighborhood (now called Boerum Hill). In 1907, Lafayette Church concluded the Cuyler Chapel to be well led and active, warranting its establishment as an independent organization: Cuyler Presbyterian Church.

[photo] North elevation of former parsonage and the church
National Register photograph, by Martha Cooper

In 1926, Reverend David Munroe Cory, as the tenth pastor of Cuyler Church, practiced an outspoken, activist ministry in the tradition established by his predecessor, Rev. Dr. Theodore Ledyard Cuyler. His life-long labor activism and involvement in politics well-suited him for a ministry in North Gowanus. When he took the helm of Cuyler Church, many of his neighbors were of Irish and Italian descent. In the 1930s, a new group of migrants arrived: American Indians, primarily Iroquois, from the Mohawk reservations of Kahnawake and Akwesasne in Canada and upstate New York. Attracted by New York City's great building boom fueled by Depression-era public works and, later, the post-war economic revival, they came to find work in the high steel industry helping to build New York City's modern cityscape. First journeying back and forth between city and reservation, then bringing their families to live with them in Brooklyn, the Mohawk ironworkers formed a new community in the vicinity of Cuyler Church.

Reverend Cory welcomed the newcomers to his church. He conducted his interactions with the new residents with a degree of cultural sensitivity that was remarkable for his time. Learning their language was only one of the ways he met his new congregants on their own terms. He also translated religious readings into the Mohawk-Oneida dialect, and promoted the reacquisition of Indian traditional culture, making the resources of the church available to the native community for that purpose. Some native congregants participated in leadership roles within the church and held periodic fundraising pageants on its behalf. The Church also served as a community center where people would often gather to hear news from home, tell stories, trade information, and hold cultural events. In the mid-to-late 1950s, a combination of factors led numerous Mohawk families to leave the North Gowanus enclave, including a lull in construction that decreased employment. In 1955, Reverend Cory left Cuyler Presbyterian Church and became pastor of Homecrest Presbyterian Church in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.

The church was converted into residential use in the early 1980s. Although changes were made to accommodate residential living space, the interior retains sufficient integrity to convey its former function as a cornerstone of the Mohawk community in Brooklyn.

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